Family Feuds

If you live in the States, today is a time for gathering and gratitude.

Some of us, however, aren’t feeling so gracious. Anxious is more like it – and I hear you.

There are far too many topics in the air at the moment that need only the slightest spark to ignite and the prevailing advice when it comes to these conversations is simply to avoid having them.

It’s impolite, or so the logic goes, to discuss anything in which we could passionately hold opposing views.

I disagree.

As always, the healthiest solution isn’t avoidance or denial – it’s transcendence. In other words, the goal isn’t to eliminate discussion altogether but, rather, to elevate it.

There are a million different ways to do this, but I’m highlighting four of my favorites that can be put into practice immediately – like, say, during Thanksgiving dinner for example. 🙂

I’ll be brief because I know it’s a full day of family ahead for many of us, but it may help to keep these guidelines in mind as you get together:

1.       Questions are the ultimate diffuser. In other words, whenever you feel tempted to pounce on someone else’s opinion, calmly ask a question instead, e.g. Why do you feel that why? or How did you reach that conclusion? At best, you will discover some common ground. At worst, you’ll buy yourself more time to gather your composure.

2.       Ad hominem attacks are unfair. Translation: Keep your focus on the substance of the debate versus the integrity of the individual. As an example, I had a friend who wrote to me saying that she “couldn’t be in the same room” with an uncle who supported a different candidate during the presidential election because “his vote said everything {she} needed to know about his values.” By immediately making it personal, however, she embodied the very judgement she criticized in him. Accordingly, whenever you’re tempted to go after someone’s character, remember that all hate ultimately stems from fear. Per #1 above, to diffuse the fear, begin by asking yourself a few questions, e.g. What are you afraid of that’s causing you to react in anger? What is the other person afraid of that’s causing them to do the same? By using curiosity to get past any surface emotion to the fear that’s driving it, you open the dialogue versus shutting it down.

3.       Offer a better invitation. In theory, we all know that we will never persuade anyone to adopt our beliefs if the strategy is to trash theirs. The problem, however, is that we often don’t know how to access the circuit breaker between our brain and our tongue. The friend above, for instance, will have zero influence over her uncle by attacking his preferred candidate and coming at him with guns blazing will most likely only root him deeper in his convictions. Thus, if you really want to influence someone, do it by pulling them towards what you love instead of attacking what you hate.

4.       Finally, when all else fails, sometimes you really will have to change the subject. Going back to #1, you can do this by asking questions that steer the conversation away from any open wounds. Here are a few from Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader but feel free to come up with your own.

What’s the value of gratitude?

What can we do to feel grateful the other 364 days of the year?

We all know the value of connections, but where did the barriers come from and what can we do to topple them?

Who’s the most grateful person you know?

Have you lived a life that deserves gratitude from others?

Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating, but – regardless of where you call home – I hope your day is filled with grace. Xo